The COVID-19 pandemic could make voting even more challenging, she said.
“I’m not 100% sure how it will work for me,” said Koller, 38, who has cerebral palsy and lives in a long-term care facility in the Cincinnati area. “What usually happens is I vote absentee.”
Koller needs assistance and relies on family to make sure her ballot is properly completed. As of this week, she is able to visit with her mother, but an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility could quickly change that.
“The thing that concerns me right now is if my mom can’t come in,” said Koller, who is a board member for Columbus-based Disability Rights Ohio. “Staff is not allowed to help me. So I want to make sure I put in my request on time.”
To help ensure voters with disabilities are aware of their rights and options, the Center for Disability Empowerment is hosting a webinar on accessible voting from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday.
Registration is required for the event, whose panelists include representatives from disability organizations, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
“This is such a huge, important election,” said Carla Waring, Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator at the Center for Disability Empowerment. “We want to talk about having an election plan.”
With a pandemic looming over a divisive presidential contest, the list of possible problems multiplies.
“COVID-19 has made every aspect of elections more complicated for voters,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
League volunteers, for example, cannot go into nursing homes to assist as they typically do. Many polling sites have moved, the Postal Service is warning of delays and awareness lags about alternative options such as curbside voting and accessible absentee ballots.
“Every voter needs to decide which method is best for them,” Miller said. “And everyone should be acting early.”
Transportation also can be a problem for people with disabilities who want to vote in-person.
“Being able to wait in line, making sure you can get back home, scheduling paratransit — transportation is probably the biggest barrier we hear about,” said Kerstin Sjoberg, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio.
Unexpected hospitalization could be a larger factor this year, Sjoberg said. Though patients can request a ballot to be delivered to their rooms, “People have to know about it,” she said.
Clintonville resident Shelbi Hindel, 56, signed onto a federal lawsuit that Disability Rights filed against the state in December 2015 over accessibility in the absentee voting process.
Hindel and the National Federation for the Blind prevailed, and voters now may receive an online ballot with speech-reading technology.
She uses the option reluctantly, when in-person voting isn’t feasible. Hindel would much rather go to the polls with her son and daughter.
“I would love to go to the polling place with all three of us, and then go out to eat,” she said. “There’s just something about the experience — to be out, in public, wearing your sticker. It’s patriotic.”
For information about the webinar on accessible voting, call the Center for Disability Empowerment at 614-575-8055 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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